Irish trip Pt.2. To Helles or to Connaught

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Part 2 of my Irish jaunt last weekend had a totally different vibe to it. So again to add a little context to this, being a Brennan there’s a pretty good chance we have Irish ancestry in fact we know we do but that’s about all we know.

My Dad, the youngest of 3, was orphaned at a very young age, well not quite. His Mum died at a young age and Dad and his sisters were put in to care, we’re not sure why but I presume Grandad wasn’t around to support them.

Anyhow Dad was born in Manchester which at the time had a large Irish community who moved over in the 19th century to help fuel the industrial revolution. The conditions these poor saps lived in were deplorable, the history of Manchester during this period makes very interesting reading.

One day, out of the blue, in his latter years Dad piped up “My Dad said he came from Boyle, County Roscommon”. Mum’s jaw dropped, in the all the years she’d known Dad he’d never mentioned this. I must say at this point that up until his parting Dad had all his faculties and somehow his memory had thrown up this random fact. Weird. Then another piece of information was imparted that his Dad was in the Connaught Rangers an Irish regiment in the British Army, remembering that Ireland was still part of the British Empire then.

So where were the Connaught Rangers stationed? Yup, Boyle! Coincidence or not?

Anyhow seeing that Boyle is just down the road from Sligo where we’d been to visit our beer barrel (see my previous blog – Beer Festival ) we decided to pop in to Boyle on the Sunday and have a mooch around the museum at King House which housed a separate exhibition for the Connaught Rangers.

On arriving at the museum and explaining we didn’t need the full tour but just wanted to have a ‘butchers’ at the Connaught Rangers info. On explaining why, the lovely lady on reception says that we should talk to Paul who was the local expert on all things Connaught Rangers, she’ll give him a call to see if he was around.

Sure enough he was and he’d be over in about 10 minutes. I just love the informality of Ireland!

Whilst waiting we looked around the Room of Remembrance for the Rangers, boy were they involved in some battles. Specially of note Gallipoli and Paschendaele. The latter all the more poignant as this week commemorates 100 years of those poor bastards being sent over the top to almost certain death.

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So Paul Malpas duly arrives as we moved sombrely around the room, looking at the scaled model of the beaches at Gallipoli and the story of the SS River Clyde which was beached and became a death trap for those on board. (Coincidently the ship was renamed Angela, my wife’s name, in latter years.)

Another coincidence occurred as it transpired that Paul was from Manchester. We felt a bit embarrassed that he’d gone out of his way as we were only really tyre-kicking due to the proximity of Boyle to Sligo but Paul, bless him duly noted what scant info we had on Granddad Brennan and departed.

Unfortunately Paul drew a blank on the exact name  we gave him (Patrick Joseph)  but there are a few possibilities there worth pursuing if the timelines fit. What he did say was that during that period up to 30% of eligible men in Boyle would have signed up to the Connaught Rangers. An incredible number when you think about it but they were easy pickings if they were poor and hungry.

The Poor Bloody Infantry indeed.

The actual Museum to the Connaught Rangers upstairs was a nice little exhibition and gave a sense of what deprivations the soldiers suffered for the sake of the empire. I noted that they served in Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq.

Nothing changes.

However Jingling Johnny brought a sense of light relief. A trophy of war that the regiment won from the French who had previously won it from the Ottomans and stuck the Napoleonic eagle atop.

Jingling Johnny

All in all it was a worthwhile detour, it gave us a few potential leads and a sense of what is, hopefully our homelands and what our forebears suffered as  soldiers in the 19th century. And with that we headed south to Kinsale Co.Cork where Liam still lives and we were based for a good few years.

A couple of days R and R were in order before the long drive home to the UK.

I think I deserved it.

p.s. The title of this blog? I like puns and Helles is a style of German beer and Oliver Cromwell drove the Irish out of the other 3 provinces telling his soldiers to drive them “To hell or to Connaught” so it’s a beer and Connaught reference nothing more nothing less.

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